India keen to make nuclear deal work, says US

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Sep 17, 2014 21:53 IST

The United States said Wednesday there is a strong desire on the part of the new Indian government to work through the “tough issues” delaying the implementation of the civil nuclear deal.

“There is a very strong desire by this new government, and a very strong desire by the US, to work through those tough issues and to be able to make progress,” said assistant secretary of state Nisha Biswal, previewing Modi-Obama meet later this month.

But there are no expectations on this front from the coming meeting. “I certainly don’t expect, as they say in parlance, low hanging fruits that can be picked for this visit per se.”

But the United States sees a “renewed attention towards, and a recommitment on, trying to work through those issues, and we welcome that,” Biswal added.

These “tough issues” referred chiefly to the Indian nuclear liability law that puts heavy financial burden — compensation — on suppliers and contractors in case of an accident.

There are expectations in the west that the Modi government can use its massive Lok Sabha majority to change that law, though there have been no indications to effect at all.

When asked about the fate of international agreements and understandings reached by the previous government, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said earlier this month, “There is no major change as such, you have spoken about treaties and agreements, be it civil or nuclear agreement, when an agreement is done it is done with the country, not with the government.”

The lack of progress on the nuclear deal, since it was announced in 2005, has often been cited by experts in both countries as the chief drag on Indian-US relations. It was among the few topics flagged as urgent by US deputy secretary of state William Burns at his first meeting with Prime Minister Modi.

Though not expecting any progress on the nuclear deal, assistant secretary Biswal said Modi and Obama are likely to discuss a vast range of subjects — India’s economy and how the US can partners in its progress, counter-terrorism and security issues, science and technology and environment.

But she gave away few, if any, details: “We are not going to scoop the two leaders”.

Overall, the official said, the relationship was much stronger now than earlier in the year, when asked about the impact of the Khobragade controversy on ties.

And the engagement with the new prime minister has been “fulsome and has been well appreciated on both sides”, and the leaders are looking forward to their meeting.

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